“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!” These lines from Robert Burns’ 1786 poem “To A Louse” have preoccupied me these last few days – not in their original Scots dialect (!), I should confess, but in their modern English translation: “Oh would some Power give us the gift / To see ourselves as others see us!” The student-parent-teacher conferences with which we concluded our week at MICDS are what brought them to mind.
Our approach to conferences in the Lower School is consistent with the approach of most schools to conferences at every level: parents or guardians meet with teachers without the students in the room. There are a variety of justifications for this model when children are younger – and I have been very impressed this week with the good energy emanating from Beasley as I have observed parents and teachers there interacting on behalf of our students – but how extraordinary it is that we pivot the process at MICDS between fourth and fifth grade, placing students appropriately at the center of the conversation, at the center of discussions of what and how they are learning.
The open-air structure of our Middle and Upper School conferences, too, has no precedent in my experience as an educator and is what most evoked Robert Burns for me. I love the efficiency of gathering everyone in the same place and expediting transitions from conversation to conversation, but more than this I love the social aspects of our format – the sense of being in common cause with one another, the chance encounters between families, the opportunities for teachers to connect during their occasional breaths between meetings. I have to admit that I did not schedule enough time to be present at conferences this week. Having only experienced more traditional approaches, I worried that my being there might distract from the serious business at hand. I certainly will not make the same mistake again. Never before in my work in schools have the concepts of “conference” and “community” felt so overlapping. Our Beasley students and parents have so much to look forward to.
If only everyone at MICDS knew how good they have it! Still being in my first year, and still retaining somewhat of an outsider’s perspective – seeing you as others see you – the news from me today is that this is the best approach to conferences that I have ever seen. While it may feel normal to many of you who are reading this, it most certainly is not. It is exceptional, and I am privileged to lead an institution that lives out its mission so creatively.
I happened to speak with a fellow first-year MICDS faculty member after she had finished her conferences on Thursday. “How is everything going for you so far?” I asked. “I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven,” she said. My sentiment exactly.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish you a wonderful weekend.
Head of School